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Questions About Wine? Our Sommelier Has the Answers

Q: Why do people age wines?
A: Aging in proper storage conditions allows a wine to develop greater harmony among all its elements-including tannins, flavors and acidity-over time. Old wines exhibit more depth and complexity than most young wines. Generally, you describe a wine as complex if you keep experiencing different layers of flavor supported by a rich texture. A complex wine should keep surprising you as you sip. It's helpful to taste some older wines alongside some newer wines, to compare some of the differences aging can make. FYI, high quality red wines are regularly aged, while most white wines are not.

Q: At what temperature should I serve wine?
A: White wines, like sauvignon blanc or chardonnay, taste better slightly chilled (about 45 degrees), but not too cold. Red wines should be served at room temperature or slightly cooler-55 to 70 degrees.

Q: Why does red wine make my mouth pucker?
A: Puckering is your mouth's reaction to the tannins (the bitter tasting compounds in grape skins) found in red wine. Tannins are the substances that give red wine the structure that allow it to age. Together with color and flavor, tannins are extracted from a wine's grape skins during fermentation.

Q: Where do flavors in wine come from?
A: Some fruits have very straightforward aroma and flavor compounds. Strawberries pretty much always taste like strawberries, for example. But the aroma and flavor compounds in wine grapes are very complex and include those found in many other kinds of fruit. This allows a chardonnay wine to suggest a range of different fruit characters, from melon to citrus to tart apple. Where a wine is grown and how it's made ends up having a lot to do with which flavors dominate the finished wine.

Q: What do people mean when they talk about a wine's tears?
A: When you swirl a glass of wine, the wine coats the inside of the glass and then runs back down into the bottom in "tears," also called "legs." The tears form when the alcohol in the thin coating of wine evaporates-so the higher the alcohol content in the wine, the more tears form and the faster they fall.

Q: What does it mean to call a wine "dry" or "sweet?"
A: Most varietal wines-or wines named after a grape variety, like chardonnay-are dry, which means that the grapes' natural sugar has been converted into alcohol during fermentation. Dry wines pair easily with a wide variety of foods. Sweet wines are obviously easy to distinguish-they taste sweet. They include wines made from varieties of the Muscat grape, wines whose fermentation has been stopped before their sugars have been completely converted, and wines affected by Botrytis-a "noble rot" that concentrates sugars while grapes are still on the vine. Some popular sweet wines are white zinfandel, moscato, certain styles of riesling, and ice wines.

Q: How many grapes go into a glass of wine?
A: Approximately one cluster or, 75 grapes.

Q: Where do red wines get their color?
A: Red wines get their color-as well as their flavor and structure-from contact with grape skins. The juices of white and red grapes alike are clear, so it's possible to make either white or pink wine from red wine grapes.